It is also know as "Harry Lauder's walking stick". Sir Henry Lauder, who lived from August 4, 1870 till February 26, 1950 was one of the most famous entertainers in the word in the early to mid 1900's. He was a singer, songwriter and comedian, selling millions of recordings and filling theaters all over England, Australia, Canada and the US. Harry Lauder had quite a collection of canes made from large branches from the contorted hazelnut shrub, carrying different canes with him at shows or while walking around. Now his name is forever linked to this plant even if most us have forgotten all of his other accomplishments.
Decades ago, while still living with my parents in Holland, dad got a contorted hazelnut shrub and it was put right near the kitchen door. Late each fall the local florist would stop by and prune the shrub. The cuttings were taken back to his store to be used in flower arrangements. Each Christmas mom would get a nice flower arrangement in return for the cuttings. On top of that, our contorted hazelnut always looked in tip-top shape. Mom used to refer to this shrub as "her little monster", liking it much better in wintertime when it was showing off its branches, rather than in spring and summer when its structure was obscured by leaves.
These plants are relatively slow growers. They have large leaves, a bit crinkled, almost as if they hadn't quite unfolded to their full potential. My two shrubs hardly ever carry any hazelnuts. Maybe the birds get to them before I notice them, but that's not the reason why I added them to my garden. They are striking as they grow taller, wider. In the winter garden when perennials are underground snoozing they become a focal point. Situated close to the birdfeeder, cardinals and blue jays become colorful ornaments in this shrub; jewels in the garden.
This is a very hardy shrub, virtually pest free with one exception; japanese beetles love eating its leaves. In years when the japanese beetles is around in large numbers, it can defoliate a small shrub, leaving only a scaffold of leaf veins behind. But never mind, the shrub will come back the following year as if nothing happened. You could spray the shrub when beetles are plentiful, or you can pick off individual beetles, like I do. I then put them in a container with soapy water, which kills them almost instantly.
The contorted hazelnut is grafted on rootstock of regular hazelnut. Most times you wouldn't even know that this plant is growing on different rootstock, but once ever so often your contorted hazelnut will start sending up straight branches right from the graft area. You probably won't notice them until they have shot straight up through the shrub. It is important to cut these straight branches off right at the grafting point near the base of the trunk. In most cases that means you will have to get down to the ground to eleminate the branches. If you leave the straight branches on your shrub the original rootstock will take over the plant and eventually you will find yourself with a regular hazelnut which doesn't look half as good.
Last spring while checking out the plants sale at Rutgers' in New Brunswick I came across a purple leafed variety of this shrub. A week later I saw similar plants at a nearby nursery. Oh, if only my garden was bigger...
My neighbor, who allowed me to start a garden for her in her backyard saw my Harry Lauder's walkingstick and wished for one for her garden. This spring I will be hunting for the purple leafed variety at nurseries for her. I may not have room for it in my garden, but I can put it close to my garden; borrowing a view, that's almost as good as having it yourself.